never stops teaching.
Journaling for awareness. Growing for life.
The other day my friend said of her ten year old, “She’s so much like me that sometimes I feel like I’m looking in a mirror.” Genetics are truly crazy. As much as I know that each person is unique and entirely their own, I can’t get over how much Adeline and I have in common. That was clear from the time she was a baby – her awareness, her passion, her drive. Still, so much of who we are is a collection of what we’ve picked up along the way. And that’s the part that scares me. I told my friend, “I see my kids soaking up so much of what I say and do. It’s like having a video camera following me around all day, and then I get instant playback. And not always the good kind.”
No one can be their best all the time (let’s go easy on ourselves), so my kids get everything else too – my crabby moments, my overwhelmed moments, my spacy moments. As they get older, I can only hope that they’ll have the good sense to take the best of what they see in me and leave the rest. But for now, they are mirrors, reflecting who I am. For better or worse.
A few days ago, I heard Brennan struggling to get a pretend apple into a play pie dish, and as he fought to get the pieces to fit, he fussed, “I can’t do it!” I thought to myself, where did he learn to say that? I feel like I’m always telling the kids to take their time and keep trying – that they can do anything. But then the next morning, when Kevin asked me if I could drop off his dry cleaning before school, I said, “I can’t do it today; I have to be there early.” Then I heard it. It was me. Brennan had learned those words from me.
I realize that it’s impossible to think I could rephrase everything in my thirty-five-year-old repertoire of communication into the pitch perfect prose I’d like to have echoed back at me. And yet, I suppose I can try harder to be the voice I want to hear. Maybe next time I can say, “Kevin, that’s going to be difficult for me this morning,” and hope it makes a difference. But I’d like to think that the most impactful messages I give, that any of us give, aren’t the ones we carefully draw up, but rather are the ones that just sing through us day in and day out. It seems that who we are, how we live, has a greater influence than the words we choose, how we say what is inside of us. I had a sweet reminder of this the other day.
I’ve been taking English riding lessons. I have wanted to learn how to ride horses since I was a kid, and I am now fulfilling a long-time goal. I was a little surprised to discover just what that goal would entail when I began. This is a far cry from cute trail rides. I’ve been thrown into the ring and am now learning how to ride with my arms out, jump fences and steer with my legs. As exciting as all of this is, one afternoon I came home a little shaken. Adeline, who also rides, was in the kitchen when I walked in.
“How was it, Mama?” she asked.
I fumbled. “It was… okay.”
She looked at me thoughtfully. “What happened?”
Oddly I didn’t know where to begin. I just started talking, in circles, thinking it through. “Well, I had asked my horse for the canter, squeezed with my outside leg… we came around to the first jump, I did my two point and we landed smoothly. But then the second jump, well, I… I asked too early, kicked too soon, and he knew. My horse knew. And like he was smarter than me, annoyed with me, he just quit. He just stopped short of the poles – a dead stop – and I almost flew through the air. But I didn’t. Instead I landed in the saddle hard and lost my breath. Almost lost my nerve. I wanted to take a break, to collect myself. But my teacher just sat on the fence saying, ‘You’ll go again.’ I was shaken and didn’t want to, but I made myself go again. And that time we cleared both jumps and it was fine. It was fun. I was glad I’d kept going. But man, I was a mess for a moment there.”
I looked over at Adeline at that point and wondered what she thought of her mom, the “mess” rambling in the kitchen. But never could I have guessed what she’d say next.
“I’m so glad you didn’t stop after that jump. You have to keep going back. Because I know you love it. And if you keep trying and trying, you’ll get better and better and you’ll be so proud.”
I swallowed hard, speechless. My little girl was mirroring the kind of advice I’ve given her – the things parents say, hoping our kids will become the people we know they can be. Without realizing it, I had set an example of working toward a challenging goal. And Adeline, without realizing it, was holding up a mirror and showing me just who I want to be.
I suppose that’s why when I caught a glimpse of myself in the actual mirror this morning, and saw how the craziness of my week was painted into dark circles under my eyes, I stiffened. I could see that Adeline was watching me.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I just look tired,” I told her. “But that’s okay. It doesn’t matter.”
I desperately wanted to run upstairs and put makeup on before leaving the house, but instead I just shuffled the kids out the door, hoping to send Adeline the message that appearances aren’t what matters.
When we got into the car, Keegan said, “Let’s go, cutie Mama,” a name he often calls me. And a smile spread out wide across my face. I suppose my children are the only mirrors I really need. They remind me of who I am and who I want to be.